Savoir Flair talks to Michelle Williams about growing up, motherhood, and her role as Glinda the Good Witch in Sam Raimi’s Oz: The Great and Powerful.
Michelle, what can you tell us about your work in Oz: The Great and Powerful?
I play the witch Glinda when she’s much younger and before she’s evolved into the character from the Wizard of Oz. In this movie, you’ll find out why Glinda didn’t go down the yellow brick road and many other things that turn her into a more fully developed character. The director, Sam Raimi, really wanted to create a distinct film with a fresh take on the story. This film shows her when she’s young and just coming into her own. It was an opportunity to see who she was before she became the Glinda that we know and love from the classic film.
In the past, you’ve had a tendency to take on darker roles. Does this film fit into a desire to take on lighter ones?
It was more about wanting to be part of a film that would allow me to integrate my life as a mother with my acting career. I couldn’t take Matilda onto the set of films like Blue Valentine or My Week with Marilyn, but this was a project that offered a playground-like environment for my daughter and enabled me to spend much more time with her. She was able to come on set, meet everyone, and feel part of her mommy’s world. It was such a happy place for her to come and visit. You can imagine what it’s like for a little girl to see all the incredible sets and costumes and to get to feel like part of the fantasy world that is being created. Matilda made so many friends amongst the cast and crew. As for me, I felt so wonderful dressed as the good witch; many children would just smile and be enraptured when they would see me in my costume. This film is almost like a love letter to Matilda, and I’m so proud to be able to play a character that every little girl can love.
Now that your daughter is getting older, do you want to continue making more movies that she could watch?
In the past, I’ve felt drawn to darker movies not just because they are more of a challenge in terms of acting but also because they allow me to release a lot of anxiety and confusion through my characters. When I finish a film, I often have this sensation of relief and joy. I find my work very freeing. Sometimes, though, especially on Blue Valentine, it can have the opposite effect. That film was so intense because the director had Ryan Gosling and I living together in the same house while we were shooting the film, and so the way our characters found their lives breaking apart felt very real on an emotional level. I’m less anxious to go through that kind of experience now because I feel very happy in my life. I don’t feel the same need to exhaust myself or challenge myself in that way. I feel like I need to be as present in my daughter’s life as possible.
Did you spend a lot of time with the other actors?
Mila Kunis and I spent a lot of time chatting in our trailers and getting to know each other really well. I hope we will have the chance to work together more closely in the future. I felt lucky to have been part of such a talented group and also to have felt like we were putting some good back into the world. The atmosphere was very intimate because Sam Raimi made us feel like we were working on a small indie film rather than on a big studio project. It was one of the most enjoyable times I’ve ever spent on a picture. It was a dream to work with him, he’s a true old-school gentleman, and there is plenty of source material for more Oz films.
What was it like working with James Franco who plays the future wizard?
James is such a charming and dynamic man. It’s exciting to watch him play the character and he puts so much into his work. He has a lot of responsibility in terms of how the story unfolds.
"It still took me some time to reach a certain level of self-awareness and self-assurance. I was always someone who was very anxious to grow up, to accomplish things. "
You started out as a teenager on the cult TV series Dawson’s Creek. How different is your life and work today?
[Laughs] That’s a big question! I saw Dawson’s Creek as a very safe place where I could grow up, learn my craft, and earn money working regularly every week. It was the beginning of my life as an actress and I felt like I was exploring the world and getting to broaden my cultural horizons by living in New York, going to the theatre, and seeing a lot of art house films. It still took me some time to reach a certain level of self-awareness and self-assurance. I was always someone who was very anxious to grow up, to accomplish things. I feel like I was pretty young to have had a child when I was 25 and to have been part of a very deep relationship, and I think it has taken me time to evolve into the kind of person I have tried to become. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I felt like I had made the transition from being a girl to being a woman, and becoming a mother was part of that process. Now I have a much better sense of who I am and how I see my life moving forward.
You grew up in Montana. What was growing up there like?
I had a pretty happy childhood but I was very impatient when it came to being independent and making my own way in life. When you’re a kid, you’re always waiting for your birthday, for your driver’s license, to see an R-rated movie; there are so many thresholds you have to cross. I was always too eager to get ahead of myself.
How did you end up pursuing an acting career in L.A. at the age of 15?
My parents moved to San Diego when I was 10 years old and I then moved to L.A. to be an actor. It caused a huge fight with my parents. It was an act of both bravery and foolishness. There is a very fine line between the two. It worked out well for me, but it just as easily could have not. I was lucky; L.A. is not the kind of town to be 15 and on your own in.
Did you have to grow up faster because of that?
In some ways yes, but, while I was working on Dawson’s Creek, it was like being part of a family and that insulates you in some ways from dealing with the issues of life. So in my twenties I was hanging on to this girlish identity. It took me time to outgrow it and to stop hiding behind my shyness and anxiety. When I was younger, acting was a wonderful escape, and I loved the idea of disappearing more into my characters. Now that I have more confidence and more direction in life, acting has become more of an exploration process for me. Being a mother changed so much in my life. Your thinking becomes more focused and you turn your attention outwards towards your child. I want to make her life as happy as possible.
Photos: Courtesy of TRUNK ARCHIVE